All posts by Richard L. Smith

Satan is Very Clever . . . But God is Much Smarter

Satan is the original obstructionist and the archetype of intellectual wickedness. Jesus said about him, “[He] does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

In the book of Revelation, the Lord states that Satan is the “deceiver of the whole world” (12:9). Paul wrote about him, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4).

The names attached to the devil demonstrate his perversity: “enemy,” “evil one,” “spirit of the antichrist,” “great dragon,” “liar,” “deceiver,” “murderer,” “adversary,” “tempter,” “Beelzebul,” “angel of light,” “lawless one,” “prince of demons,” and “Mammon.”  The devil is the master obfuscator, for he insinuated to Eve, “Did God actually say?” (Gen 3:1).

Likewise, his attributes and authority manifest his vast influence: “The devil took him [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me’” (Matt 4: 8–9). Other passages testify to his influence in the world. The devil is “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31), “god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4), and as John said, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Satan has “the power of death” (Heb 2:14).

How, then, do we withstand him? Since his main strategy is deception and falsehood, it is imperative that we become very careful with our minds. We should evaluate every intellectual influence we permit to enter our consciousness. We should change what we focus on, listen to, watch, and read―if it does not cause us to grow in faith, understanding, and wisdom.

We must learn the biblical worldview. We ought to understand the worldviews that capture the minds of unbelievers. Most importantly, we should ask God for a “renewal of our mind” (Rom 12:2), so that we can become productive agents of change.

Practically speaking, we could join or create a Bible study, participate in church education, and form book clubs and movie discussions.

Honestly, many of us should simply return to primary school in theology and the Bible. We must become students of the smartest Being in the universe.

Basically, we should ask God to teach us to love him with our mind, which Jesus told us is part of the greatest commandment (Mark 12:28–30).





Sometimes God is an Enigma

Often, when we first become a believer, our conversion is akin to a child’s birthday party. There are lots of gifts, party favors, cake, celebration, and affection. And perhaps we think to ourselves, “Wow! Knowing God is like a big party! Why didn’t I convert sooner?!”

But, after a few years, when we reach spiritual adolescence, real life begins to press in upon us and demands our attention. Now, there are expectations placed upon us, such as obligations at school and responsibilities at home. We struggle with rebellion and yearn for personal authenticity. Life is more complicated and perplexing. It’s not simply a party anymore.

This image of personal growth from childhood, through adolescence, to adulthood is a metaphor for the process of spiritual maturation and sanctification. Sometimes, the adolescent stage can be quite turbulent. During this period, perhaps we say to ourselves, “Wow! If knowing God is like reaching puberty, pimples, overwhelming desire, and personal insecurity, then why did I even convert?!” It is often, while we pursue maturity in adolescence, that God often seems quite enigmatic, even hostile.

Fortunately, however, we possess the prayer book of ancient Israel, who knew their share of enigmatic experiences with God. In the Psalms, we witness their affliction and learn patterns of prayer for spiritual darkness and perplexity. Consider how Israel lamented when God was enigmatic:

“Why?”–When God Makes No Sense
Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (10:1)

Why do you hide your face?  Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? (44:24)

“How long?”–When God Delays
My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O Lord—how long? (6:3)

How long, O Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their destruction, my precious life from the lions! (35:17)

“Where are You?”–When God Is Silent
They cried for help, but there was none to save; they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them. (18:41)

To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. (28:1)

When God seems to us incomprehensible (inexplicable, perplexing, impenetrable), when he delays (through apparent inaction, impediment, setback, interruption), or when he is silent (seeming to ignore and reject us or appear non-responsive and impassive), we know that such experiences are not unique to us. We know that the saints of the Old Testament passed through similar trials.

And we should listen carefully to their prayers and learn to think like they thought.






We live in an age in which the intellectual, spiritual, and social movement towards relativism and syncretism are converging with great power and influence. So often, we hear outside―and even within the church―“gospels” that proclaim “Jesus in addition to (for example Marxism” or “Jesus less than (for example naturalism).”

In this pluralistic era, religion and worldview are quite unclear. Devotees approach the sacred realm as a sort of buffet meal, selecting ideas and practices according to spiritual taste and desire. In this syncretistic context, beliefs are mixed and matched according to fad, fashion, and psychic need. Tolerance and inclusivism are creedal assumptions.

For many, especially of a secular mindset, Christianity is no longer viewed as justifiably unique or exclusive. It is simply another, particularly noxious, “weed” in the “garden of god,” merely one variety of generic spirituality. As a result of this outlook, for most people today Christianity is no longer plausible. It no longer compels. It does not make sense anymore. It is not relevant for daily life.

How are we, followers of Jesus Christ, to respond to this situation? How can we demonstrate the intellectual plausibility and existential credibility of our faith? How is the absolute God to get a hearing in our generation?

First, we should learn to use our minds in God-honoring ways. We should gather information (learn), pursue understanding (study), and seek discernment (reflection) according to our biblical assumptions. Similarly, we must also look for worldly and erroneous thinking in our own understanding.

Second, we should always try to discern the assumptions in other worldviews and reasoning.

We can learn to how to evaluate other positions from within our own worldview―and also how other worldviews analyze our position with their presuppositions. We should learn to compare and contrast, discern and refute, when necessary. We should declare with David: “How great you are, O sovereign Lord!  There is no one like you and there is no one but you” (2 Sam 7:22).

Third, we ought to cultivate a healthy skepticism. We must no longer passively consume data delivered to us by popular culture. The writer of Genesis did not passively observe its surrounding Mesopotamian culture. The apostle Paul did not passively affirm unbelieving thought within his eclectic context. When he was in Athens, “his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.”

We should seek the same Spirit-inspired motivation.

We should cultivate our cognitive capacities and a discerning heart to communicate truth in compelling and compassionate ways.





The intellectual character of the book of Job is clear. A commentator said: “By vigorously lamenting his bitter feelings, [Job] comes to grip with his anguish and channels his mind to seek some solution to his predicament.” Clearly, the book invites its readers to think deeply. In fact, the text contains many terms associated with knowledge. The common verb “know” occurs over 60 times.

Additionally, specialized vocabulary occurs in connection with at least two themes. First, terms associated with legal disputation appear, such as contend, case, argue (a case), argument, answer, prove, acquit, plead, arbiter, brought a complaint, plead the case, and show (partiality).

Second, several terms linked to wisdom occur, for example knowledge (11 times), understanding (23 times), counsel (9 times), purpose (2 times), and wisdom (18 times). In particular, “wisdom” and “understanding” are coupled with the “fear of the Lord” in Job’s discourse about wisdom in chapter 28.

Further, the use of questions underscores the deliberative nature of Job’s debate with his friends—and with God. Questions begin with “can” (30 times), “do” (31 times), “what” (2 times), “when” (16 times), is there” (7 times), “should” (4 times), and “how long” (4 times). Job also posed many “why” questions specifically addressed to God, for example:

Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire? (3:21)

Why have you made me your mark? Why have I become a burden to you? (7:20)

Why do you hide your face and count me as your enemy? (13:24)

Why do the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power? (21:7)

In these ways, the dialogue contains argumentation between Job and his friends (chapters 4–37). The friends perceived in Job intellectual snobbery and asked: “Why are we counted as cattle? Why are we stupid in your sight?” (18:3). They argued against Job vigorously: “You are doing away with the fear of God and hindering meditation before God. For your iniquity teaches your mouth, and you choose the tongue of the crafty. Your own mouth condemns you, and not I; your own lips testify against you” (15:4–6). But Job’s answers were just as severe: “As for you, you whitewash with lies; worthless physicians are you all. Oh, that you would keep silent, and it would be your wisdom!” (13:4–5).

The lesson for you and me is this: We must bring our brains to the text. Do not expect Bible interpretation to be easy. Sometimes, the study of Scripture requires a lot of intellectual effort. But the rewards are great. We learn to think better. And most importantly, we come to know God more deeply and understand more clearly the world from his point of view.




Are you looking for a point of contact with non-Christians by which to reason together? Do you seek common ground for dialogue about issues that really matter for the sake of the gospel?

One of the most productive areas for thoughtful interchange is film. In popular movies, we find creative expressions of worldviews, values, concepts of the self, and especially theology.

Why? Because according to the biblical worldview, human beings are hard-wired for spirituality. We seek meaning and purpose. We need love and an object to worship. We are homo adorans.

We strive to comprehend and prevent evil. Our cultural artifacts are filled with religious and philosophical assertions. We can learn how to use these affirmations and questions as a basis for gospel discussion.

For example, I recently watched an interesting movie on Netflix called, “The Man Who Knew Infinity.” The film is about a devout Hindu, who was a self-taught, mathematic genius. In 1913, Srinivasa Ramanujan traveled to Trinity College, Cambridge, to study with G. H. Hardy, an atheist. The story raises fascinating questions about faith and science (mathematics), the meaning of life, Christianity and Hinduism, revelation, and racial prejudice, for example.

Here are two, brief dialogues between Ramanujan and Hardy that illustrate the confrontation between spirituality and the modern worldview.

Hardy:   God and I do not exactly see eye to eye . . . You see, I am what you call an atheist.
Ramanujan:  No sir. You believe in God. You just don’t think he likes you.

Hardy: Life for me has always been mathematics.
Ramanujan:  Do you want to know how I get my ideas? My god, Namagiri. She speaks to me. Puts formulas on my tongue when I speak. Sometimes, when I pray. Do you believe me?
Hardy:  But I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in anything that I cannot prove.
Ramanujan:   Then, you don’t believe me. Don’t you see? An equation has no meaning to me unless it expresses the thought of God.

How might you use this film for discussion with non-Christians or instruction in the church? Here are five questions that can guide you:

1) What is the message of the film? What does it assert or reject?

2) How does the film express its message? (Characterization, script, scene, etc.)

3) What worldview, ethical, or theological themes arise from the film?

4) What does the biblical worldview teach about these themes? (Compare and contrast)

5) How might you communicate with a non-Christian about this movie?

“Teach Us to Number Our Days” (Pt 2)

Verses 4–11 speak about the second fact of reality regarding the human condition. We are fallen. We sin. We do evil and evil is done to us. We are guilty before God:

For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed.
You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.

For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is  but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.

Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?

Psalm 90 is very blunt about the sinfulness of the human condition. Despite the many blessings of this life, the reality of evil and suffering due to sin indicates that the world is out of order. Things do not often work well or as planned. Everything, animate and inanimate, degrades and degenerates. We age and die. Death is our destiny.

Also, human relationships are out of order. A few moments watching the evening news, reading the headlines, talking with our neighbor or simply a moment of existential honestly in front of the mirror informs us that sin produces sadness and loss in our lives. So, let’s make several observations based on these verses.

Verse 8 says: “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.” This tells us two important facts. First, we are morally accountable to God. He is not only our creator but also our judge. Second, God knows everything about us and we cannot hide anything. We must give account for everything we do, think, and say.

Verses 9 and 10 say: “For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.”

Thomas Hobbes, 17th century British philosopher, described social relations among human beings as “continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” This results in a “state of war” whereby “every man is enemy to every man.” Hobbes describes much later in human history what Genesis 4–11 ascribes to mankind immediately after the fall. The human heart, alienated from God and from one another, became “only evil all the time” (6:5).

Prayer For Wisdom
In light of all that Psalm 90 tells us, the only valid response for the Christian believer is Moses’ simple prayer: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (v. 12). Given the facts of reality, the wise posture is one of listening and learning. The petition for God to teach us indicates submission, obedience, and accountability.

Moses asked God to “number” his days. This means that he understood his frailty and sin. So should we. We must recognize that our every breath is a gift. We should realize that we are stewards of our existence, who must give account for our lives. Also, to “number our days” is to invest ourselves in what really matters and what has eternal significance. We then strive to be good stewards over our “heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Mark 12:30).

Finally, Moses wanted God to give him wisdom. (See Psalm 39:4–6.)  God gave Moses a heavenly perspective about the human condition. With this as his North Star he was able to use his spiritual compass to navigate the world in a way that pleased his creator, Lord, and savior.

We should desire this wisdom as well.

Thank God, we have the scriptures “which are able to make [us] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). He has  “become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Cor 1:30).

“Teach Us to Number Our Days” (Pt 1)

There are two facts about human existence that nearly all religions, worldviews, philosophies, and ideologies agree. We are finite and we are fallen. The existence of evil and human limitation are uncontested facts of reality.

Psalm 90, the only psalm attributed to Moses, is an excellent discourse about human nature, according to the biblical worldview.

Verses 3–6 declare the following about the finite and transient nature of human beings:

You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in  your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.

You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed  in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and  withers.

We are finite. Clearly, we cannot overcome our basic limitations. We cannot completely eliminate our lack of experience or limitations of intellect. We cannot change the facts of our birth, ethnic heritage, and many other facets and weaknesses of our personal identity. We are not qualified in the quantity or quality of knowledge or character to be God.

Psalm 90 provides two metaphors that illustrate how fleeting life is. First, we are “dust creatures.” In the Bible to be “in the dust” is a metaphor indicating a status of poverty and powerlessness. On the other hand, to be “raised from the dust” means to be given honor and power. Listen to how the Psalms describes both nuances:

These all [animals] look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give  it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good  things.  When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. (Ps 104:27–29)

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them  with princes, with the princes of their people. He settles the barren woman in her home  as a happy mother of children. Praise the LORD. (Ps 113:7)

The dust metaphor teaches that we have nothing apart from God. We are worthless apart from his goodness and grace. And, just as God breathed life into the first “dust creature,” Adam, he breathes life into each of us in Christ. These verses clearly indicate that God is sovereign over our lives. It is he who says “return to dust.”

The second metaphor is “grass.” In light of eternity our lives are fleeting and short. Psalm 102 echoes the contrast between God and mankind expressed in Psalm 90: “My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass. But you, O LORD, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations” (vs 11–12).

Again, according to the biblical worldview we are finite. Psalm 90 shows that the wise person knows this and knows how to respond to this critical fact about reality.

Jeremiah’s Letter

The natural response to the threat of destruction of Israel at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, was to fight or flee―and many Israelites did one or the other. But Jeremiah’s counsel was different (29:4–20).

Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles explains how they must think and what they must do in Babylon:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (vv. 4–7).

Most importantly, God “sent” them to Babylon. Their present location was not due to unfortunate happenstance. Rather, they were brought there by God’s express purpose. They were, in fact, on a mission.

Later in the letter, God revealed his long-term intention, covenantal affection, and commitment to them: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare  and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (vv. 10–11). He emphatically foretold restoration and multiplication after the exile (30:18–19).

But, in the meantime, they must cultivate their spiritual identity within an exilic context.

Verse 7 commands the exiles to behave in an entirely unexpected and implausible manner: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” The noun “peace” (shalom) indicates well-being and wholeness, as well as the concrete conditions for safety and prosperity (Lev 26:6–10).

In Jeremiah 29:7, therefore, the exiles were commanded to “seek the peace” of their captorsfor their own good! They were commanded to pursue the well-being, prosperity, and security of Babylon.

Jeremiah’s counsel was clearly counter-intuitive. What counter-intuitive wisdom can we learn from this example for our civic responsibilities in our respective nations today? Do you feel as if you suffer internal exile in your own nation? What would it mean to seek the peace of your country?

Beware of Utopia!

Because human beings are created as the image of God, we are hard-wired for extension, development, economic growth, even globalization. But, because we are fallen, the usual result are misguided visions of utopia on earth. From these we produce conquest, empire, subjugation, exploitation, plunder, and extinction. We often create cultures that are nothing short of abusive, inhumane, and unjust.

Clearly, “east of Eden” (Gen 3:24) and “under the sun” (Eccl 1:9) the human project is flawed. This is the “present evil age” (Gal 1:4), as Paul wrote. As a result, there will never occur in this eschatological epoch a utopia through communism or socialism, capitalism or consumerism, Islam or any of the many alternative spiritualities.

The reality is that history is full of failed and tragic experiments in culture building and identity formation. Consider the many corrupt leaders and violent empires of destruction, beginning with Babel: ancient empires such as Pharaoh’s kingdom of the sun-god or Caesar’s Pax Romana, the medieval Holy Roman Empire, modernity’s myth of progress, and ideologies like Nazism, communism, and totalitarianism.

Sadly, history is a litany of tragic quests for paradise lost or for utopia on earth. All of them testify that human beings are created in the image of God but instead worship and serve idols (Rom 1:18-23). As John Calvin wrote, “Our hearts are factories of idols.” As a result, we create endless substitute religiosities and “alterative gospels,” as well as group identities, economic policies, and worldviews which sometimes can only be defined as a kind of “hell on earth,” a foretaste of dreadful things to come.

We should honestly ask ourselves: How many millions have perished because of the lust for empire and its cousin, colonialism, throughout human history? God alone knows the suffering and injustice inflicted due to the divine right of kings, manifest destinies, and myths of progress. How often have lands been acquired, peoples dispersed, raw materials confiscated, or access to the sea or trade routes seized for purposes of security, gain or glory? How often has mankind raped the earth of its natural resources, failing to steward God’s goodness? How many people have been enslaved or exploited for want of manpower or greed?

And most importantly, how often has Christianity affiliated with the powerful and prosperous, but overlooked the victims of empire: the poor, exploited, enslaved, abused, and condemned? Surely, for all of this creation “mourns” (Jer 4:28).

Christians should, therefore, be continuously wary. Whenever an ideology proposes to “put an end to war and set all things in order” (spoken about Caesar and Pax Romana), the church should take heed.

Community Gardens

Imagine that the biblical worldview is like fertile soil. Plant a person or idea in this rich loam and a beautiful and fruitful yield results. Imagine, further, how many more plants would grow in an entire garden.

Imagine that a garden is a learning community (formal and informal) created to grow Christian minds for the glory of God and the blessing of mankind. Imagine, also, the impact of countless community gardens over course of time. The long-term impact of learning God’s word profoundly would be extensive in the church and the world. Consider these possibilities.

Aspiring thinkers turn back to the Bible as an act of worship. They evaluate whom they listen to and where they learn. They turn away from negative speakers and false messages. They learn to distinguish between the trivial and the momentous. They reinvest their intellectual capacity in the true, good, and beautiful. They develop intellectual virtues in accord with the Scriptures.

Apprentice thinkers acknowledge with their whole mind, soul, and strength this essential truth: “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut 8:3). They learn the history, people, themes, and vision of the Bible. They study the cultures of the ancient Near East and Palestine. They practice intertextual reasoning and learn to think like the biblical authors. They listen to the global community and learn from the theological tradition of the church. Renewed thinkers learn to fear the Lord and grow in wisdom.

Those who acquire wisdom serve their local cultures, teach in their local churches, and mentor future leaders. Some are like Joseph and Daniel, serving with distinction in the world for the glory of God. Others function as ambassadors in the public square, like Dorothy Sayer and C. S. Lewis. Still others serve evangelistically as Francis Schaeffer and Tim Keller.

Maturing thinkers are wise stewards and honor God as apprentice leaders, builders, benefactors, and thinkers. They evaluate the world with biblical assumptions. They affirm what is positive and promote the common good. They also critique and challenge what is false and evil. They demonstrate the gospel in ways that are intellectually plausible and existentially credible, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks” (1 Pet 3:15).

Imagine the positive impact of community gardens—nurturing Christian minds for the long-term to the glory of God and the blessing of mankind.

Cited by permission from my book Such a Mind as This: A Biblical-Theological Study of Thinking in the Old Testament (Wipf & Stock 2021)